by Lise Olsen
Twenty leading journalists gathered in Mexico City on Feb. 18 to exchange information and discuss ways that Investigative Reporters & Editors can continue helping reporters who, under pressure and often at great personal risk, continue to do investigative reporting on transnational (U.S. – Mexico) topics such as cartel violence, wasteful government spending, political corruption, and the economic and social costs of the war on drugs. The event was the fifth in a series of bilingual workshops that IRE conducted from 2009 -2012, which were supported in part by grants from the Ford Foundation. To discuss next steps, IRE brought together Mexican and US speakers who had participated in border workshops in Laredo, El Paso and San Diego, as well as Mexico City-based journalists (both Mexicans and American correspondents) who cover similar issues.
Award-winning investigative reporter Sandra Rodriguez of El Diario de Juarez talked about how she mines both personal sources and public records to dig beneath the surface of the explosion of homicides in Ciudad Juarez (see more in this video about her work, which won ICFJ ‘s international award). Proceso Magazine Reporter Marcela Turati (author of the book “Fuego Cruzado”/"Crossfire") spoke about her innovative approaches to working with victims of violence and about how she’s carefully built a gross-roots network of support for journalists within Mexico called Periodistas de A Pied.
Mexico City based reporters Daniel Izarraga, author of the book “La Corrupción Azul", an investigative expose based on previously Mexican presidential government archives, and Lilia Saul, of El Universal newspaper, spoke about their continuing efforts to use Mexico’s open records law to pressure government officials to release documents about public and political spending.
Well-known veteran investigative editor Ignacio Rodriguez Reyna, founder of EmeEquis magazine, spoke about how the decreasing investment in investigative teams has impacted the ability to do in-depth reporting on the border and elsewhere in Mexico – as well as in the United States – putting a greater burden on individual efforts. Yet his independent magazine has continued to pull off high-impact stories on a low-budget, including this incredible story “The Marijuana Republic” / “La Republica Marihunanera” – an intimate profile of a jefe in the La Familia drug cartel, which won the prestigious Rey de España reporting prize.
Two editors whose states have been heavily impacted by violence – Siglo de Torreon editor Javier Garza and Daniel Rosas of El Mañana (Nuevo Laredo) – both provided valuable insights about how they manage to continue to cover the news and gather information but attempt to minimize risks.
At the end of the day, US and Mexican journalists (many of whom are long-time friends and members of IRE) exchanged ideas of how IRE can continue to work with individuals and other journalism groups to support investigative reporting on both sides of the border. Among the ideas: build a collective archive of court documents on most-wanted cross-border criminals; continue to offer workshops, on-line courses and conference panels on cross-border topics; and build stronger networks with other organizations, like the DART Center and the Interamerican Press Association, to increase support to investigative journalists under attack.
IRE has a long history of working with its Mexican and border journalist members. From 1996-99, IRE operated a Mexico City organization, known as IRE-Mexico, that grew to more than 200 members and offered conferences and workshops across Latin America. In 1999, IRE-Mexico became an independent Mexican non-profit, Periodistas de Investigacion, which later combined forces with another Mexican non-profit - Centro de Periodismo y Etica Publica (CEPET).
More recently, IRE has sponsored border conferences in 2004 in Nuevo Laredo, in 2009 in El Paso and in 2009-2012 in Tucson, San Diego and Laredo. And Taller Arte Luz in Mexico City hosted the Feb. 18th event – a journalism training center owned and operated by former IRE-Mexico member Blanca Juarez.
Lise Olsen is an investigative reporter for The Houston Chronicle.